Abigail Hopper Gibbons
Women's Prison Association & Home
150 Years in the Forefront
Abigail Gibbons assumed the presidency of PA in 1877- Under her leadership in the next fifteen years, the agency became an active pressure group for legislative reform. In addition to arguing against employing men as caretakers of female prisoners, WPA protested the overcrowding of jails and, through Mrs. Gibbons' efforts, a bill was introduced in the New York legislature providing for a reformatory for women and girls of New York and Westchester. After years of frustrating work, the bill was passed in 1892, and work began at Bedford, N.Y.
Other legislative achievements of the association under Mrs. Gibbons included the Police Matron's Bill, covered patrol wagons for transporting women from station to station, women prisoners to be searched by women, and children no longer allowed to remain in prison with their parents.
Gibbons Cottage, Bedford Reformatory.
In an annual report of this time, the directors concluded, "New York has become the dumping ground of all creation. The restlessness of modern life is shared by the unfortunates of the lower classes. It is found more and more difficult to reta women in the Home and to induce them to go o to [domestic] service."
Hopper Home, circa 1880, at 110 2nd
In 1874, WPA, which had by then served some 5,800 clients, moved from
Tenth Avenue to l10 Second Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets.
The agency borrowed $8,000 to buy the brownstone. Wrote the Directors,
"There is a growing conviction that the object of confinement should be
to reform rather than to punish, to fit the prisoner for a useful moral
life in the world .... The WPA offers a shelter to women discharged from
prison, stands ready to carry on the work of reform begun in the prison,
by the healthful practical methods of employment and instruction combined
and finally, to put the inmates in the way of getting an honest living...."
The residents of the Home took in laundry and ironing and, occasionally, fine needlework for which they received payment. Part of their earning went into the support of the residence.
Hopper Home,late 19th century.
With new and expanded quarters, with Mr. Burrall's legacy earning interest, receipts continurf to grow. By 1876, the Directors reported an income of some $14,000, and despite the general financial depression of 1877-78, the agency was able to decrease its indebtedness on the residence. Four years later, the laundry was enlarged in the back the Home.
In January 1893, Abigail Hopper Gibbons died at the age of 92. She was eulogized in her obituary asm "one of the most remarkable women of
the century." She was not only one of the founders of the WPA, she was also the founder of the New York Diet Kitchen for infants and the sick and the poor, and president of the New York Committee for the Prevention and Regulation of Vice. A friend once said of the Hoppers and Gibbonses "they had a natural love for sinners."
Hopper Home working laundry.
Some of New York's best-known families became long-time supporters of
WPA. Donations would often be called the agency's "life line." It was generally noted that "work with wrong doers has never been popular and has not attracted givers."
In an early annual report of WPA, the Directors said, "We have not
had our fair share of help from the public. We do not complain that others
have had more, but only that we have had less." Another report surmised
that "perhaps it is because there are some who confusedly feel that to
avow sympathy with the criminal is almost like confessing a toleration
for crime. But the tremendous cost to the taxpayer of bringing the same
offender to trial again and again is a very practical reason for widespread
support of such work as ours."
Cottage for inmates,
State farm at Valatie, N.Y.
At the turn of the century, the Directors wrote about the new waves of
immigration into New York, the relocation of prostitution to uptown areas, and commented that conditions in the jails were such as "might have existed in the dark ages." Thy expressed their basic philosophy in noting that "the sorrowful procession of our erring sisters passing through our prisons awakens our constant pity and calls for our kindliest Christian service ... As the higher civilization advances, we are learning that [prisons] should be reformatories. . . ."
LAUNDRY REPORT, OCTOBER, 1, 1899.
NUMBER OF PIECES LAUNDERED, 1898-9.
October . . . 3,564
November . . . . 5,425
December . . . . 4,038
January, 1899 . 5,438
February . . . . 4,117
March . . . . . .4,267
April . . . . . .4,096
May . . . . . . .4,930
June . . . . . . 3,911
July . . . . . . 2,851
August . . . . . 2,976
September . . . .2,906
Total . . . . . .48,519
Greatest number laundered January, 1899
Smallest number laundered July, 1899
LAUNDRY RECEIPTS, 1898-i899.
October . . . $262.12
November . . . . .243.59
December . . . . .326.38
January, 1899 . . 298.71
February . . . . .334.01
March . . . . . . 259.52
April . . . . . . 321.36
May . . . . . . . 278.25
June . . . . . . .374.71
July . . . . . . 227.67
August . . . . . .177.56
September . . . . 148.48
Total. . . . . $3,252.36
June . . . $374.71 largest amount
September . . . smallest amount $148.48
By 1902, the need for a farm was being urged. WPA, among others, believed that getting women away from the city was the best "hope of
a permanent improvement." The agency again lobbied Albany to pass the Farm
Bill which provided funds for the State Farm at Valatie in Columbia County,
completed in 1914.
June 1914: Archduke Francis Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo igniting the flames of World War I in Europe.
War and Prohibition in 1919 resulted in fewer women coming to Hopper Home. WPA had long considered alcohol abuse a prime cause of crime among women but, along with the rest of society, WPA came to realize
that eliminating spirits from the streets of New York was no deterrent
to crime. The same year, it was reported that The Bedford Reformatory was
now under consideration "to be converted into an institution for women
The agency - then under the presidency of Rachel Hopper Powell - began
to reach outside of the city to the Rome State School for Mental
Defectives and Letchworth Village to train women in laundry and other domestic work.